Starting a business is hard work. Starting a business in a saturated industry is even more so.
This week we are joined by the Founders of LÜNA Coffee to chat about how they are navigating the saturated coffee industry with their combined 24 years of industry experience.
Lüna Coffee: L
P: Why coffee? Some would say it's a saturated market.
L: Coffee is a totally saturated market - In the United States, there are well over 2000 roasting companies, and new ones launching with every passing week. In Canada, this phenomenon is a little less pronounced, but, still, thereʼs a new cohort of small craft roasters making their appearance in the Canadian coffee scene over the last few years.
Hereʼs the thing - For Laura, coffee has been the lens through which she views the world, and to leave the industry after over a decade of learning and participating would be a waste of the knowledge and experience she brings the last 6 years (she served as green coffee buyer and director of sourcing for 49th Parallel in Vancouver).
As for Nate, coffee has been the thing at the center of his last decade in Vancouver and heʼs got a clear vision for the kind of roasting he wants to see be more accessible in the Vancouver market (and for the North American market for that matter).
Weʼve got a lot to bring to the table - and LÜNA is the result.
P: Why now? In our initial exchanges, you mention friends in the industry often discuss an 'exit strategy' from Vancouver; if the outlook is dim, why have you chosen to stay?
Well, weʼre both pretty stubborn! Laura is from Ottawa, and Nate is from Hamilton originally. We both fell in love with BC and Vancouver for various reasons and over the years, it became obvious that if we were to stay, it would have to be on our own terms with our own business. In this, our first year, weʼre under some serious pressure, but ultimately, we think LÜNA can be financially viable here - We want to give it a try. Besides, there are enough people who are craving for this kind of coffee company to exist in this city, so we want to help make that a reality.
P: Now that you have been selling for a few months, how has it worked out for you?
So far, so good! Our hope was to attract the attention of likeminded people and cafes and work together to explore coffee in a different way. Here are some of our first wholesale partners (you can find our coffee at all these spots as of right now) Birds and the Beets, Aubade, Hey Happy in Victoria, Small Victory Bakery, and Nemesis. Weʼve even got a few places you can find us across the country, and into the USA - Namely Dayglow, and Kindness & Mischief in Los Angeles.
P: What makes your brand special?
L: Weʼve got a unique vantage point between the two of us at LÜNA. Laura has internationally recognized sourcing/ buying experience in specialty coffee, and Nate has worked for some of the top coffee companies in Vancouver (Revolver, Elysian) and heʼs got an art degree from Emily Carr University. Between the two of us, weʼve been in coffee a long time (24 years combined). We can be nimble with label artwork since we are doing our design in-house - and weʼre taking a lot of cues from craft beer to help people quickly understand how a coffee is going to taste just by looking at the name and design.
LÜNA is the culmination of our collective experience, all wrapped up in a fun fresh package. Sourcing coffee from friends in Colombia, Honduras and other places who we trust, putting flavour front and center on our biodegradable packaging, and roasting in a way that highlights flavour clarity, brightness and sweetness are all things that we know we do well - A fun brand and world-class coffee can coexist - Thatʼs our M.O.
P: Things don't always work out as planned with new businesses, what was one thing that turned out wrong and how did you guys come back from that?
L: We thought weʼd be able to find a commercial space earlier (weʼve been quietly roasting since November of last year, but have only really ramped up in April). Vancouver has been a challenging place to find something that doesnʼt have a demolition clause on it, so weʼve been carefully growing and even putting wholesale clients on a waitlist. So I suppose you could say thatʼs a good problem to have, and not necessarily something that turned out wrong since itʼs sort of out of our control. It isnʼt how we expected it to be. We are able to work through it though thanks to Dusty at Agro Roasters. This man has a heart of gold and we are able to rent the space at night to be able to grow LÜNA while we wait for the right space for our own roastery.
P: What is a key thing you guys feel you are doing RIGHT that's propelling the business forward?
L: Cultivating an excited and engaged community. Hands down. For us, we arenʼt so interested in vanity metrics on Instagram - what counts for us is real exchanges with people, and enjoying excellent, light, articulate coffees together. Weʼre not apologizing for who we are and what kind of coffee we want to produce. We think that is resonating with people. Which is great! Being yourself and making what you want to make, exactly how you want to make it, means its easier to sustain things in the long term and keeps you feeling fulfilled as you grow.
P: In what way are you hoping to contribute to the Vancouver community through your business?
L: Vancouver is an incredible place to be, and there are people who have made it here and pushed through humble beginnings to create something unique and vibrant for the local community. For us, we are leaning into our wholesale cafe partners as much as we can; right now, they are the main way to experience our coffee and we wouldnʼt be able to do this without them.
Eventually, weʼd like to contribute with a tasting bar and roasting space, where we can be a hub for learning and have taste experiences with coffee. A freezer menu (you can stop aging of unroasted coffee if you put it in a deep freeze and vac seal it) is something weʼre eyeing as a way to have a large array of cultivars and processes available to have a way to taste a series of coffees with relevance and context. Pedro at O5 Tea Bar in Kitsilano is someone we look up to very much - heʼs been able to be that Tea hub for people. We want to do that for coffee in Vancouver.
P: How can other entrepreneurs support each other, to turnaround the pessimistic 'exit strategy' view that's prevalent in the industry?
L: Legacy businesses donʼt seem to be in vogue right now, hey? Well for us, our end game is to be able to have kids here and stay for the long term. Talk to people!
Youʼd be surprised to find that more people than you think are going through similar challenges as they start their businesses - Lending an ear and conversely, being open and willing to share will open up doors, and act as a sort of pressure release valve on the stress that inevitably builds up as you launch your business baby into the world. Itʼs all too easy to stay in your own head - Weʼre trying not to do that.
P: What key learnings can you share with aspiring entrepreneurs from your experience?
L: Do your homework. Know your industry inside out. Focus on what YOU can uniquely contribute. If youʼre looking at your competitors for ideas, then youʼll likely have a redundant business and it might not succeed as well as if you put into action a business idea that is truly unique. Listen to people. Find your community. Feed your culture.
P: What's next for LÜNA Coffee?
L: Weʼre looking for a brick and mortar space! And meanwhile, we are launching a neat subscription program in our webshop at enjoylunacoffee.com.
We want to thank Laura and Nate for taking the time to joins us as this week's entrepreneur feature. Starting a business is tough, and we often read about 'success stories' of entrepreneurs who have already spent years working towards a milestone. It's refreshing and encouraging to see how startup businesses make their way in the earlier stages, to recognize and discuss the struggles, and to let aspiring entrepreneurs know what to prepare themselves for on the road ahead.
We hope this conversation has given you, our valued readers, insight into how one might venture into a saturated industry (and survive!) Everyone's entrepreneurial path is unique, but the key learnings are similar, if you have something of unique value to add to the industry, you will still be able to succeed. If you ever feel stuck in an entrepreneurial rut, take Laura and Nate's advice to open up and talk to people!